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Archive for September, 2007

in the village…

We moved to the village last night and will be there at least until the end of succot! We are staying with my host family from the summer of 2005. Adam survived (even enjoyed!!) the first night. But, since there is no power (or running water) in the village, we will only have access to computers and internet at work. We know that we owe you blog entries about my birth/bathday, Yom Kippur and now succot, which have all been exciting, meaningful, and fun. We are in the process of constructing a succah, a really beautiful one, in the village. Every step of this process has been an experience! We are pretty sure it is the first succa in the entire sub-county! If it weren’t for the Abayudaya, we would say all of Mbale. So, it will take a bit longer to get our posts written and onto the blog. Our apologies.
We want to wish everyone a year of love, happiness, health, learning, and peace.

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more than a mosquito net

Every night before we go to sleep, we have to make sure that the mosquito net is tucked in around the bed. It has become routine, and believe me, it’s much better than waking up to buzzing in your ear or to bites on your ankle. But, what we have come to appreciate is that the net protects against more than just mosquitoes; it protects us from so many other animals and bugs that we don’t want to cuddle with. Like bats and rats (we heard the former and saw the latter, but neither time at Anne’s, don’t worry). The net also protects us from cockroaches. We know, because we found a dead one on top of our net one morning. As you can imagine, we have come to really, really love our net. 

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tragedy of the commons

As we were walking through the village two weeks ago along a dirt road, though a somewhat main road, we saw children standing beside what seemed like a tree that had fallen across the road. They were busy digging and moving dirt when a motorbike approached. Before he could pass through a small break in the tree, he gave the children a coin. Upon inquiring, we learned that it is not easy to get community members to take the time to fix public spaces. For the more academic of you, this seems like an example of “the tragedy of the commons.” (Here’s the wiki article about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons.) So, when these children “voluntarily” fix the road, they charge the passers-by a bit for their time and effort. I thought this was a rather clever solution!

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Rosh Hashana

After work on Wednesday, we called a boda driver to pick us up at 5:30pm to travel to the Abayudaya. Of course, we were in a rush and he was not on time. When he finally arrived, we learned that his vehicle could not fit two people plus our big bag, especially up the hills on the way to Nabugoya Hill. So, he went to the road to flag down someone with a bigger bike and we met him there. After an uphill ride, we arrived about fifteen minutes before services were supposed to begin. Upon entering the house where we usually stay, we learned that they had not prepared a room for us. Even though the community had asked Adam to lead services three weeks prior, we did not assume that anyone would remember that we needed a place to stay. So, when we were leaving two weeks prior, we reminded everyone that we would be back for Rosh Hashanah and we even texted Susan, the daughter of the family in whose house we stay. Suzanne says that her phone stopped working earlier in the week. After looking for another place to stay unsuccessfully, Susan ended up preparing one of the rooms in the house for us.

            During our search for accommodations, a muzungu named Glenna Gordon ran up to us and told us we had to come see a really gorgeous sunset. As a journalist, Glenna was out taking pictures of the community and the beautiful sunset. We really enjoyed meeting and talking to Glenna. She graduated from Columbia’s School of Journalism (The “J” School) two years ago, spent her first year out of school in Rwanda and has been in Uganda now for about a year. She lives in Kampala but travels fairly widely in Uganda. In addition to her work for the Daily Monitor here, the non-government Ugandan newspaper, Glenna writes for a number of blogs and maintains her own blog: http://www.ugandascarlettlion.blogspot.com. Her blog really covers a lot of the current events and news taking place here, so it could be a really interesting read for many of you…. Highly recommended is her post and links about the homosexuality issue that has been in the news over the past few weeks, which we have not had a chance to properly address, though we have been thinking and talking about it quite a bit.

Anyway, we are definitely grateful to Glenna for pointing out the sunset. It was really great to have the opportunity to take a few minutes to think about where we were and not just worry about where we would sleep! And, of course, everything worked out. Adam even had time to change before services began (considering he was leading them, I guess, they really couldn’t have begun without him), but we did make it to shul right around the scheduled time. Adam led a really beautiful maariv service, which was only a taste of the lively and meaningful services that he would lead over the next two days.

We met and spent time with some other really fantastic people definitely worth telling you guys about. First of all, we met a Peace Corps volunteer, Rivka, who has been in Uganda about six months. She lives in a town west of Kampala called Masaka. Any organization that benefits from having a Peace Corps volunteer for two years has to contribute to the volunteer’s stay by paying for her housing. Although not up to Peace Corps standards, somehow Rivka’s organization is getting away with paying 40,000 Ugandan Shillings per month, about $25 for her very small one bedroom apartment in the center of town. Rivka cooks her own breakfast and dinner, cleans her own clothes, and basically does everything for herself. She lives on the small monthly stipend of about $200 from Peace Corps. In terms of work, Rivka is working mostly with street children but spends some time helping poor women with small business plans.

            We also had the privilege of meeting an older couple, Judy and Lou, who are AJWS volunteers living and working in Kampala with an organization that supports families affected by HIV/AIDS. Judy and Lou are very active in their Reconstructionist shul in Washington DC (Rabbi Sid Schwartz, founder and director of Panim-el-Panim, founded their shul). They are very thoughtful and interesting. Judy has been writing memoirs of people that she finds interesting, like a Quaker friend of hers, who she found out was Jewish and a Holocaust survivor only years after they first met. Well, after two days of interesting conversation, we joined them for delicious Indian food on Saturday night. (We ended up talking until 11 pm and since we had not arranged a ride home, that was a saga in itself. Despite the rain, our very nice waiter stood outside for fifteen minutes waiting for a boda to pass by. He finally found one, but once we got home, we had to wait outside the gate for a few minutes while we called Faz to wake up the guard to let us in –yes, a sleeping guard who doesn’t hear a motorbike pull up in front of the house is probably not the most effective, alas!) Anyway, Judy and Lou are truly inspirational. All we can say is that when we are in our late sixties and have grandchildren, we hope to still have the strength and sufficiently spontaneous spirit to travel halfway around the world to do volunteer work.

            We decided to walk home on Friday from the village. It took us about an hour and a half. All-in-all the walk was not bad. Most of the way, we had children calling to us, as they always do. We met one mother who encouraged her two young children to come over, greet us and practice their English. Dripping sweat and carrying jerry cans soon to be filled with water, these two young children were quite shy but managed to say a few words to us. The highlight of our walk was when Adam pointed out a thick rainbow about halfway up Mt. Wanale, the mountain right next to where we live. (We hope to spend one day soon climbing it. Supposedly, it’s not a bad hike and you can reach the peak and make it back in one afternoon. We’ll let you know.)

            So, we waited until three o’clock to leave the Abayudaya in order to avoid the heat of the day. Just as we arrived in town, it began to drizzle. Adam suggested that we wait in a hotel until the rain stops, but I insisted that it would probably just get worse and that we really wanted to get home in time to prepare for Shabbat, so we continued walking. Well, we got stuck in a downpour and, unfortunately, Adam was wearing white pants, or at least close enough to white that they became see-through in the rain. And, of course, as soon as we got home, the rain stopped. And, no, it didn’t rain again. So, maybe we should have just waited out the rain.

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Working with the Abayudaya

Sorry this post is a bit delayed. I wrote it last week but didn’t have a chance to post it until now… more about our Rosh Hashanah experience at the Abayudaya coming soon.

Two Shabbatot ago (Parashat Ki Tavo), Maital and I celebrated the 10th anniversary of her Bat-Mitzvah with the Abayudaya. A few days before Shabbat I emailed Aaron, the acting rabbi of the community to tell him that Maital could read Torah for the community on Shabbat. During the previous shabbatot that we had spent with the community, I read most of the aliyot and Maital prompted me with the sofey pasuk (end of the verses) even though they asked me that morning. There is one young community member, Isaac, a young member of the community, is the regular ba’al koreh and shliach tzibur. He always reads one or two aliyot. However, I don’t think that he reads the whole parashah when there are no guests to lain. It is no wonder then, that Aaron was overjoyed when he received my email.

During kabbalat Shabbat, Aaron approached Maital and asked her if she remembered what she had spoken about at her bat-mitzvah. She answered that she had not spoken about Ki Tavo at her bat mitzvah and was not exactly prepared to give a dvar- Torah. Sure enough, before maariv, Aaron invited Maital to speak about the parasha. Maital amazed me with a well-delivered, beautiful impromptu dvar-Torah! The next day, she read Torah very well, and made (me and) the community members that heard her very proud. I acted as gabbai sheni and took the levi aliyah. At the end of the service, JJ Keki, a leader in the community who heads the Mirembe Kawomera Coffee business, stood up and said, “Wait! I have a word! Just a few minutes.” In the end, he spoke for about fifteen minutes about the importance of marrying within the faith and having Jewish children. Then, he pointed the two of us out and said that he wishes our parents were here to see us. If he were our father, he would live for an extra thirty years because of our participation in the services. He also emphasized how as a married couple, who chose partners within the faith, we set a very good example for the community.

*****

Each week the Abayudaya welcomes guests from all over the world. Since we spend about two shabbatot each month with the Abayudaya, we have a chance to meet many of the guests that visit. Many are Israeli and we are always overjoyed to meet then and converse with them in Hebrew. For now, these guests mostly stay with either Israel, the chairman of the community, or Yael, Rabbi Gershom’s sister, and her children. (We have been staying at Yael’s house.) The Abayudaya guesthouse, which is being built by Chairman Israel with funding from the Institute for Jewish Community Research, will hopefully be finished some time in October. This new beautiful guesthouse will have the capacity to house all the guests that stay in the community.

*****

When we first arrived in July, we had a very different perspective on the community. The first Shabbat we were there, Gershom, the rabbi of the community, was spending his last Shabbat with the community before going back to America for his last year of rabbinical school at American Jewish University (AJU), formally University of Judaism (UJ), in California. He had came back to visit for the summer and was celebrating his son’s bar mitzvah that Shabbat. In addition to the celebrations, there were many guests visiting and programs throughout Shabbat. Since that weekend, Shabbatot have been much slower. The only communal activities are services on Friday night and Saturday morning as well as havdalah. The only occasional youth activity is to watch a football game at the high school. One of the things that I hope to work on while I am here is to organize some Shabbat activities such as Torah study (which was actually really interesting when Rabbi Gershom led it), games, seudah shlishit, and other youth programming.

*****

Before coming to Uganda, it was my desire to work with the Abayudaya, teaching Hebrew and Jewish texts to the youth and leaders of the community. After spending two months working at BCC and learning about and participating in development work, I am inspired to continue that type of work with the Abayudaya. My first Shabbat at the Abayudaya, I met Danielle Meshorer, an employee of an NGO in California that is sponsoring the projects –internet café, guest house, and clinic– on Nabugoye Hill. After an initial conversation and many emails, we have arranged for me to work full time with the Abayudaya, teaching Hebrew classes and Microsoft Excel classes, working with the clinical officer on financial planning, advising the executive board on the ongoing projects, and a host of other things.

*****

My time at Bushikori has been really educational and inspirational. I have recently been working on human resources, which entails organizing the staff files. I created an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the missing documents and am working on making sure each file is complete. I feel like I am learning valuable managerial and administrative skills that can help me with whatever work I will do in the future. I have also been able to practice my rabbinical skills many mornings at BCC during “morning glory” the daily devotional service. Each morning, the staff of BCC gathers for prayer and text study. One staff member “shares,” which means that they choose a section from the Old or New Testament and teach about it. Maital and I are often called on to teach when the scheduled person is absent. While most of the community shares from the New Testament, Maital and I always teach from the Old Testament. Our sharing has led to interesting discussions and insights.

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Unetanah Tokef

This Rosh Hashanah, I had a new experience reading one of the most moving and challenging prayers: Unetaneh Tokef. This prayer details how each person’s fate is determined on Rosh Hashanah, the new year, and sealed on Yom Kippur, ten days later. First it describes each person passing before God for judgment as sheep pass under their shepherd’s staff as he gathers them. And then, the prayer details the different possible fates a person might face in the coming year. In addition to the obvious possibility of death or life, the prayer details the types of death and life a person might experience. The prayer begins,

“On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall leave this world and how many shall be born into it, who shall live and who shall die, who shall live out the limit of his days and who shall not…” (translation from the new Rabbinical Assembly mahzor)

After these stirring words, the prayer details the different ways a person might die, either by fire, water, sword, beast, hunger, thirst, earthquake, plague, strangling, or stoning. While these thoughts always haunt me, the reality of death in any of these ways always seemed distant. The people I know who die, usually older, die of old age or illnesses, like heart attacks or cancer. For me, these forms of death seemed antiquated or foreign. Sure, once in a while, people somewhere in the world would die from an earthquake or a flood, but for the first time this year, it didn’t feel so distant. [Of course, at times, these things feel closer, like with Katrina, but this year they felt especially close.] Recently, I have been opening the paper to news of massive floods that have displaced thousands in Uganda and of course killed a few. Although contained very quickly, two people died in Western Uganda of the “plague” and with flooding come risks of cholera outbreaks. The clinic treats malnourished patients often who could die of hunger or thirst. And water, well, I always thought of it as floods, but here water can kill you. As much as one needs it to survive, water contains lots of deadly diseases. So, I guess this prayer meant something different to me this year as I thought of the people in my community and their fates. As we said this prayer, I wondered what the next year would bring for this community and how their fate differs so greatly from the community that I care so deeply about in America.

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where we live

            Many of you have asked for details about our daily lives, so I am going to write a bit about where we live and the amazing people who host us. So, as we have mentioned in previous posts, we are renting a room in the home of Anne Wandendeya, the director of BCC. Anne is a single mom. Her husband, Samuel, founded BCC soon after Idi Amin’s reign of terror. They literally took orphaned children into their home and when they could no longer afford to house all the children, they asked friends and family to keep them. Anne and Samuel already had two children of their own, and by the time Samuel passed away, they had five. The organization really took off in the early 1990’s when Australians learned of Sam’s work and were inspired to help fund it. Since then, their support has expanded, and now people in England and the United States also sponsor children and help fund other programs at BCC, in a less formal environment.

A number of years ago, Samuel Wandendeya died tragically in a car accident leaving Anne to raise five young children on her own. Despite having little to no organizational or managerial experience, Anne also stepped up to the big task of running BCC. Anne’s children are now much older. Two (Samson and Grace) are in tertiary school, two (Mary and David) are finishing secondary school, and the youngest, Matthew, is in primary school. The older four children board or rent apartments near their schools, so usually Matthew is the only one home with us. We have really enjoyed the past few weeks of holiday since it gave us an opportunity to get to know Mary and David who are at home.

Aside from the immediate family, a number of other people also stay here. And, I have been told, and am coming to learn, that the people who stay here each night change frequently. For example, for a few days, Anne’s younger brother was staying here. One night two weeks ago one of the sponsored women currently enrolled in nursing school came stayed for the night after she had come to talk some things over with Anne. Babra, who was sponsored by BCC through vocational school for tailoring, also lives here. She is currently beginning to work in town and as she builds up her clientele, she stays here. Of course, Fazira, the woman who keeps the house, lives here as well. And believe me, I was shocked to learn that she wakes up everyday at 5am to make sure that breakfast is ready by 6:30. And, as you all know, our close friend, Levert, the clinical officer at BCC, lives in the “boys’ quarters,” the smaller house in the backyard, which in Kenya is called “s.q.” or “servants’ quarters.”

Well, I actually want to tell you about a little five year-old-girl, named Violet, who has been living here for the past month. Of no familial relationship to Anne, this little girl was brought to BCC clinic last year with very severe burns all over the right side of her body. After a few days of treatment at the clinic, her mother begged Levert to discharge her and promised to return everyday for cleaning and dressing of the wound. Well, two weeks later, the mother brought Violet back with severely infected burns. The policy quickly changed- Violent was not allowed to leave the clinic until she was healed. Well, for the first few weeks, the mother struggled to get food for her daughter but remained with her at the clinic. However, after some time, for unknown reasons – possibly because she was overwhelmed by being at the clinic so much or because she couldn’t find food – the mother just left Violet at the clinic. After a few days of feeding her and caring for her at the clinic, Anne decided that she could not leave this little girl at BCC with no one to look after her properly. So, Anne took her into her home. She lived here for some months and then returned to her mother.

Soon after we arrived, Violet fell on the healing burn and reopened the wound. Again, she needed treatment. And, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the previous treatment chaos, Anne just brought Violet home. Now, although having endured much pain and still recovering from the burn and reopened wound, Violent is not a calm or quiet little girl. Quite the contrary! Violet runs around all day long, basically making a mess of everything. [As the wound heals, she actually has a hard time standing up straight because of the way the skin is regrowing around her hipbone. Although she would benefit greatly from physical therapy, that is not currently an option. However, this slight limp does not slow her down.] Although Anne is the one who brought Violet into the home, with a full time job and being very involved in her church, Anne is not the one who spends the day with Violet or does most of the work caring for her. I am actually still surprised each time Anne bathes Violet and cleans her wound after a long, hard day at work. Anyway, for the most part, Fazira, Babra, and Anne’s children are the ones who look after Violet. And, in addition to Anne’s openness and caring, I am endlessly impressed and inspired by her children’s patience and love for this little girl who now lives in their home. For David and Mary, who try to study and prepare for the coming term, a five-year-old running around, making noise, and seeking attention makes it quite difficult. And for Matthew, an eleven-year-old boy, playing with a five-year-old can be fun for a short time, but like any younger sibling, she really knows how to get on his nerves, except she is not actually his younger sister, so she seems to have a bit less of a right to do so.

Adam and I usually enjoy Violet’s company. She greets us with hugs and a warm welcome when we return from work. Her English makes us laugh since she is really just beginning to learn English and most of what she knows is from here. Fazira and Mary tried to teach her to say “thank you for cooking” after she eats supper and for quite some time, every time she thanked anyone, she would thank them for cooking. Yesterday, Levert tried to teach her to say excuse me after she sneezes and now she sneezes and says, “please.” Also, she teaches us a lot of Lugisu. She will continue speaking until we understand. Or when we look through books, she points to the pictures and describes them in Lugisu.

            Well, we have been most impressed with Anne’s and her family’s generosity. Her work goes way beyond her role as executive director of BCC. I constantly joke with her that she has over 400 children. It’s not enough that she supervises an organization that sponsors hundreds of children to go to school, runs a primary school, and offers medical services to the community through the clinic. She deeply and sincerely cares about the children and their families. Children come to the house on weekends and during evenings to see Anne as she literally serves as the mother to many orphaned children. Paul, the head of one of the child headed families, has been by numerous times to ask about job advice. She continues to guide children even once they have officially graduated from the project. And for children like Violet, she brings them into her home, feeds them, and heals them. She really lives the work that she does.

I hope that this year, we all have the opportunity to live what we believe as Anne does. May this be a year of peace, health, and happiness. Shana tova u’metuka.

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